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Full text of "What it was, was Jesus"

What It Was, Was Jesus 



by 

C. Daniel Crews 



For the 250th Anniversary Service 

of the Southern Province 

of the Moravian Church, 

Wait Chapel, Wake Forest University, 

Sunday, November 1 6, 2003 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 



http://archive.org/details/whatitwaswasjesuOOcrew 



What It Was, Was Jesus 



by 

C. Daniel Crews 



For the 250th Anniversary Service 

of the Southern Province 

of the Moravian Church, 

Wait Chapel, Wake Forest University, 

Sunday, November 1 6, 2003 



Introduction 

At the concluding service of the Southern 
Province's 250th anniversary celebrations, Br. 
C. Daniel Crews, our Archivist, shared with us 
the motivation, indeed the inspiration that led 
the first colony of Brethren to settle in the 
North Carolina wilderness 250 years ago. That 
inspiration is still with us as we work for peace 
and justice in God's world today. We hope and 
pray that by sharing Br. Crews 's address with 
you here, that this inspiration will lead us as 
a Church, a Province, and a people of God for 
many years into the future, till at length we are 
at rest with the Lord. 






What It Was, Was Jesus 

by 

C. Daniel Crews 



When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I 
did not come proclaiming the mystery of God 
to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided 
to know nothing among you except Jesus 
Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you 
in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 
My speech and my proclamation were not with 
plausible words of wisdom, but with a demon- 
stration of the Spirit and of power, so that your 
faith might rest not on human wisdom but on 
the power of God. 1 Cor. 2:1-5 (NRSV). 

Well, here we are. And who would have 
thought it? In saying that, I am not referring to 
the approximately 10 years of planning and 
preparation which have gone into this service, 
all the committees and numerous individuals 
who have given of their time and talent to make 
this event possible. Nor am I referring only to 



M> 



all the other events, celebrations, and concerts 
which have filled the last year. Often over these 
past years this date seemed so far away that it 
hardly seemed real that someday we would 
actually be gathered here with this service 
going on. 

No, the "Who would have thought it?" goes 
much further back than the beginning of our 
planning a decade ago. Indeed, it goes back 
to the very beginning of our Province's story. 
Who would have thought when those first few 
Single Brethren crossed the boundary line of 
our recently acquired Moravian Church prop- 
erty in North Carolina about noon exactly 250 
years ago tomorrow — who would have thought 
as they gathered that first night in an aban- 
doned hunter's cabin to sing "We hold arrival 
lovefeast here in Carolina land" with the wolves 
howling in the wilderness all around — who 
would have thought what that little band would 
become today? Could they have even imagined 
a Province of thousands of members scattered 
through five states? 

Or consider those men and women and 
children who soon followed to build on what 
Bethabara had started, to hew Bethania and 
Salem and Friedberg and Friedland and Hope 
out of the wilderness. Not only did they literally 
have to carve out houses and towns and a 
livelihood for themselves, but they had to do it 
in the midst of the American Revolution with 
threats of violence and confiscation from all 
sides. And then they had to figure how to adapt 



to life in a new nation which did not even exist 
when the first settlers came, and to get used to 
a whole different world view from what they 
had known. What was this American freedom 
everyone was talking about, and why did it 
not apply to women and African Americans? 
Talk about having to deal with a society that 
is changing! 

Then there was the tragedy of the War 
between the States and the grim years of Re- 
construction when there truly was no money 
and the Province was a single signature away 
from voting itself out of existence. Financial 
crisis has been rather the norm than the ex- 
ception in our Province's history. 

And every succeeding generation has had 
its own challenges, and doubts, and fears, and 
opportunities, some taken and some lost. 

What was it that brought the early Mora- 
vians to this place, and what caused them 
(including those who had no choice in where 
they were to live) to stay with the Church and 
labor on. What kept those first and later gen- 
erations of Moravians going? 

Well (with a nod to a line from a well known 
North Carolina entertainer): "What it was, was 
Jesus!" 

These were people who gave living testi- 
mony to the words of St. Paul: "I decided to 
know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, 
and him crucified." 

They came and they labored not just for 
their own comfort and success or to fulfill their 



own purposes. Rather, as the hymn puts it, 
they came "not to glory, but to serve." They 
knew in the most basic way Christ as their 
Lord, and they enjoyed a close walk with their 
Savior. Christ as Chief Elder was not an ab- 
stract concept, but the loving Shepherd who 
knew each of his flock by name, each one's 
hopes and desires, strengths and foibles, and 
whose guidance they sought to follow with 
every step. True, as the hymn says, "at times 
our steps have not been sure." No, our spiritual 
ancestors here in the Southern Province were 
not perfect — far from it. They had their share 
of petty jealousies and bickerings, and we can 
now see that some of the views held by many of 
them, on the role of women for example, and 
most especially their acceptance of slavery, 
were wrong pure and simple. 

And yet, and yet, as one reads in their dia- 
ries and memoirs we find also clearly expressed 
the living presence of Christ. As Christ said he 
had to be about his Father's business [Luke 
2:49], so we set about doing our Lord's. And 
all of life was to be filled with this presence 
and Lordship of Jesus Christ. Not only that, 
but even as they acknowledged their sins and 
shortcomings, theirs was a joyful faith, thank- 
ful for what the Savior had done for them, and 
eager to share that message of God's redeeming 
and abiding love with all. It was the joy of 
Christ that they sought to share, not in an ar- 
gumentative way, not even to try to make 
everybody into Moravians. As we noted in our 



publication Villages of the Lord: 1 

To say that Moravian faith is Scripture- 
based is true. To say we are a liturgical 
church is true. To say we are Christ- 
centered is most true. Of the innumerable 
examples, perhaps this will suffice: 

A stranger woman came to Bethabara 
in 1754, less than a year after the first 
Brethren arrived to begin settlement of Wa- 
chovia. She came to see Br. Kalberlahn, the 
doctor, but she probably knew she was 
dying. The Brethren tended her as best they 
could, and also gave her a book of sermons 
in English for her husband to read to her. 
And this he did as she lay on her deathbed. 
At one point, though, she pined, "I wish 
I could read German," the language the 
Brethren were using. When asked why, she 
said it was on account of her soul. The 
Brethren replied that she did not have to 
know German for that. The "way to blessed- 
ness is short and simple: The Savior cer- 
tainly died on the cross for her, and if she 
believes that, that is all." 
This same focus on Christ is expressed and 
elaborated in respect to the whole Moravian 
Church in a sermon entitled "Christ Is AH" by 
Bishop J. Kenneth Pfohl, preached in Home 
Church for the August Thirteenth Festival in 
1917: 

To the Moravian Church "Christ is all" 
We speak of our Church as "a Christ- 
centered church," a church that centers all 
on Him. And we mean it very literally. We 



1 My Name Shall Be There, facing page 1 . 



mean it with a positiveness difficult to suf- 
ficiently make clear. We mean it so certainly 
that we make Christ and Christ alone our 
creed. We are not a creedless church, but we 
are a church of a single creed — "Christ and 
Him crucified remain our confession of 
faith." We seek to make Him our all and in 
all, the one great essential, the one thing 
needful. Synod after synod, speaking for the 
Church, has declared it: "Christ is all" 

. . .Had you asked Hus why he suffered 
martyrdom at the stake, his answer would 
have been "Christ." Had you stood on the 
great scaffold in the public square of the city 
of Prague and asked the venerable Budowa 
why he yielded his life to the cause of the 
Church, he would have answered "Christ." 
Yes to them "Christ was all in all," and to 
live for Him, to do for Him, to die for Him 
was the supreme thing. . . . 

In the Renewed Church it was the same. 
It was not merely a cool, deliberate purpose 
or strong determination to obey the Master's 
command that sent men and women into 
every part of the world. ... It was a burning 
passion of love for Jesus that lit the first 
missionary lights on tropic island, distant 
continent, and arctic waste. Something of 
the very passion of Christ for a lost world 
impelled them. When Dober declared that he 
was ready to become a slave himself that he 
might preach to the slaves on St. Thomas, 
he was expressing the motive of sacrifice 
that filled them all as they went forth to bear 
witness to the crucified Saviour. The passion 
that impelled them still sounds in their 
battle cry: "To win for the Lamb that was 



slain the reward of His sufferings." 

. . .So it has been with the Church in 
much of its vast mission enterprise. Calls 
have come in most unexpected manner, 
through individuals, through governments, 
through other denominations to undertake 
new work among neglected and needy 
peoples. A small Church already carrying a 
heavy burden of mission responsibility, she 
might have answered, "We have all we can 
do," but not so, for when the Lord made it 
clear that He purposed it, there was but one 
course to be pursued. He was Lord and 
Master as well as Saviour, and the Church 
answered with Isaiah of old: "Here am I, 
send me." 
Thank you, Bishop Pfohl. This was a joy 
in the Lord that knew there might be a price 
to pay, discomfort and inconvenience to be 
endured, yet the love of God poured out upon 
us in Jesus Christ could not be hoarded as if it 
were our possession alone. God's grace in 
Christ is for all, and the Church has the 
wonderful obligation to proclaim it far and 
near. And they were not alone in this, for 
Christ himself through his Holy Spirit goes 
before. Undaunted in the face of every chal- 
lenge, our Bishop Edward Rond thaler used to 
say: "Let us do it together." But that was 
not just a two way street. It had a threefold 
dimension. Always understood was, "Let us 
(you and me) do it together with Christ" 

This same Spirit is evident in later gen- 
erations too. Through wars and depressions, 



through growth in the 1950's and branching 
out into Florida, through changes in society 
and a recasting of the Florida work among 
Brothers and Sisters from Central America, 
Suriname, Guyana, and the Caribbean in ways 
those first pioneers — of the 1700's or the 
1900's — never imagined, the presence of 
Christ has been manifest to guide and bless. 

"Not for ourselves, but for Christ" has been 
our watchword, the theological underpinning of 
what our Province has always been about. And 
speaking of theology, we often say that we most 
characteristically express our theology in our 
hymns more than in scholarly tomes. That 
being so, our Province through the years has 
known well, in the words of the Lutheran 
hymn, "Did we in our own strength confide, our 
striving would be losing." Yet thank God we are 
not left only to our own strength, but Christ 
writes his words on human hearts: "The word 
of God, which n'er shall cease, proclaims free 
pardon, grace, and peace; salvation shows in 
Christ alone, the perfect will of God makes 
known." If you want a convenient summary of 
what the Gospel is, just read the five stanzas of 
that hymn. This is the firm foundation upon 
which our Province has been built, and 
members of all the generations have joined in 
singing this truth: "The Savior's blood and 
righteousness my beauty is, my glorious dress; 
thus well-arrayed I need not fear when in his 
presence I appear." 

And so here we are for this marvelous 



celebration. Sure, many challenges lie upon us 
— when have they not? There are hard 
questions we have to deal with, and yet as we 
look around the various congregations and 
agencies of the Province, there is so much good 
going on, so much sharing of the love of Christ, 
that we may take heart and thank our dear 
Lord for what he is doing among and through 
us. 

We have been here 250 years and we re- 
joice. Now it is time to get on with the tasks 
that lie ahead. Will our Province be here to 
celebrate its 300th or its 500th anniversary? In 
truth, I do not know. Remember, Zinzendorf 
wrote a hymn saying that Herrnhut should 
exist only as long as the Lord had work for 
them to do and they were willing to do it. So too 
for us, if the Lord will, and if he still has work 
for us to do — and looking at the world today, 
there appears to be more than enough for us to 
do — then I believe we have ample reason to go 
forward "with courage for the future." At the 
beginning of the 20th century Bishop Edward 
Rondthaler in his Memorabilia for 1900 made 
an uncannily accurate prediction of what the 
20th century would bring. I would not presume 
to attempt such a thing for the 21st century. I 
simply don't know. But "I know whom I have 
believed, and am convinced 2 that He is able" 
[2 Tim. 1:12 KJV]. And that's all I need to 
know. Whatever new temptations, new possi- 



2 Persuaded. 



bilities, new advances lie before us, Jesus 
Christ remains the same yesterday, and to- 
morrow, and forever [Heb. 13:8], and if we 
follow him, we will do well. 

When I was deciding on the title for this 
sermon, our Assistant Archivist Richard Star- 
buck said, "No, Daniel. Not What it was, was 
Jesus.' Rather, what it was, is Jesus!" For 
various reasons of allusion and euphony I did 
not change the title, but Richard as usual had 
put his finger on the main point. There is no 
question that what began and preserved this 
Province for 250 years was Jesus. The question 
to us is, "Is it still Jesus?" Is it Jesus whom we 
gratefully accept as our Savior; is it Jesus who 
is our Chief Elder actively guiding us; is it 
Jesus who is the beginning, middle, and end of 
all we proclaim? Our Lord is ready, willing, and 
able, and to us the call comes as it comes to 
every generation: "Choose this day whom you 
will serve!" [Josh. 24:15]. And like all those 
generations before, by God's grace may we 
respond: "As for me and my house, we will 
serve the Lord!" [Josh. 24:15]. And who is this 
Lord? Ultimately the question is not "what," but 
"who." And who it was, who it has always been, 
who it will always be, is Jesus! 



10 



WORSHIP (159 A) 
Two hundred fifty years ago 
you brought us to this place 
and still we seek to learn and grow 
to manifest your grace. 
With wider vision may we give 
ourselves to others while we live; 
O may we all with one accord 
still follow you, dear Lord. 

Dear Christ, in faith we heard your call 

in this and ev'ry land 

the Gospel to proclaim to all, 

upheld by your strong hand. 

At times our steps have not been sure, 

but by your grace we shall endure 

to sing our God's redeeming will, 

and faith with deeds fulfill. 

O Lord, in love you came to earth 

to rise, but first to die; 

yet in your death we find our birth, 

all lives to sanctify. 

When all your saving works we view 

our hearts are filled with love for you, 

and love for one another grows 

as your love overflows. 

And so, good Savior, now we pray: 
grant us your Spirit's pow'r 
as in the past, so in our day 
and ev'ry future hour: 
with hope may our lives testify 
that you all needful gifts supply 
to serve the world and unify 
your church for life on high. 



Moravian Archives 

457 S. Church Street 

Winston-Salem, North Carolina